The Relationship Blog

Couples Therapy – Using Mutuality to Improve the Quality of the Relationship

It is absolutely necessary in a mutual attitude to build a foundation that allows you look at your partner and feel you’re with someone who matches you, reflects you, and is equal to you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have differences in certain skills. You may have a skill where you’re an expert in history, or you’re terrific in a particular support. That’s not basic, that’s just a skill. The key is whether you use that skill to prove that you are better than your partner. I’m talking about developing an attitude where you really believe when you look at your partner that this person is an equal reflection of you at your core. If you can’t hold a sense of that equality, that vision, or that perception, then you won’t be able to see them as equal.

What Does “Equal” Mean in Couples Therapy?

Equal means that you have the same capacity for intimacy. That you are developmentally at the same level of fear, which matches that of your partners. As a result I see the two of you as a true match in being equal in your willingness to risk in the relationship. There is no such thing in my view as you being terrific at intimacy, and you’re partner isn’t. You need to jointly have a sense that you’re both open and available to intimacy at the same level. Nothing more, and nothing less.

How is the Training Accomplished?

The beginning part of the training has to start with yourself because many people are not equal with themselves. They are always judging themselves, they are putting themselves down. They constantly rate themselves, and consider different parts of themselves as better than others. If they are strong they consider themselves a good person, but if they are weak they are not. Thus, you first have to start with learning to accept yourself and paying attention to all the things within yourself that you judge and do not accept. You have to come to terms and make peace with that, so that you can develop as an individual. Because whatever you judge in yourself, you’re going to defend or judge the other. And in that defending you’re not going to be able to support a mutual attitude. So it begins with each partner really learning to accept and come into terms with different parts of themselves so that they are not judging themselves. I have clients who judge themselves 95% of the time. They are constantly creating inequality within themselves. If you create inequality within yourself, you’re certainly going to spread that to your partner, and play the same dance with your partner.

Author: Bruce Derman Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills and Santa Monica, California who specializes in working with people in all stages of relationships. You may reach Dr. Derman by calling (818) 375-7194.

For more information on couples therapy, contact Dr. Bruce Derman PH.D. at

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